Inquirer Editorial: Iraq war was a mistake from the beginning

A statue of Saddam Hussein is brought down in Baghdad nearly 10 years ago.
A statue of Saddam Hussein is brought down in Baghdad nearly 10 years ago. (KOJI HARADA / Associated Press)
Posted: March 26, 2013

One never would have thought, when this country was raining "shock and awe" on Baghdad, that politicians would have little to say about the 10th anniversary of the war, which today seems more in remission than over.

In fact, Agence France-Presse reports that more than 200 people have been killed in Iraq this month as sectarian violence continues. A rash of car bombings, likely linked to last week's anniversary of the invasion, left at least 40 Iraqis dead and dozens wounded. The peace that the war was supposed to bring remains missing in action.

Most Americans no longer care, polls show. They believe this nation paid too high a price - 4,500 soldiers killed, 30,000 wounded, more than $2 trillion in expenditures - to fight a war whose goal kept changing, and that it received little in return, certainly not the Middle East stability that in many respects seems more remote than in 2003.

Some foreign policy analysts point out that while toppling the murderous regime of Saddam Hussein was the right thing to do, the weakening of Iraq has allowed its bitter enemy Iran to pursue its ambition to become a regional power.

That shouldn't have been hard to envision 10 years ago, but U.S. leaders didn't let that possibility change their mind about attacking Iraq. In fact, former Vice President Dick Cheney still insists that the Bush administration made the right decision. "If I had to do it all over again, I'd do it in a minute," he recently told the producers of a documentary being made about him, titled The World According to Dick Cheney.

The war became unpopular, but "it was more important to be successful than it was to be loved," Cheney said. "If you want to be loved, go and be a movie star." He also still insists that Iraq tried to buy uranium from Niger to make weapons of mass destruction, even though the allegation has been proved false. "The only thing [Niger] had to import was uranium and goats," Cheney said. "Iraq had plenty of goats."

Cheney's former boss had the good sense not to attempt such a vociferous defense of the indefensible. George W. Bush has remained silent about the anniversary. Had he granted an interview, he no doubt would have been asked not only about his wrong assumption on WMD, but also why he shifted the military focus to Iraq even though al-Qaeda was based in Afghanistan. Of course, the terrorists did eventually go to Iraq to take advantage of the instability the war created.

Ten years after the Iraq war began, and 15 months after it was declared over for this country, no one can call it a success. Daily life in Iraq remains a battle. The Sunni minority that dominated during Saddam's reign now struggles under the Shiite government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who not only has ties to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but is also said to be providing aid to embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Does it sound like Maliki is grateful to the United States for its fight to free Iraq from a despot?

Despite what Cheney says, if this country had to do it over again, it certainly should not travel the same course that led to the bombing of Baghdad. If nothing else, the Iraq war should have taught this nation that you don't jump into mortal combat before you know for certain what and whom you're fighting for.

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